Authoritarianism revisited: Genetic and environmental influences examined in twins reared apart and together

Kathryn McCourt, Thomas J. Bouchard, David T. Lykken, Auke Tellegen, Margaret Keyes

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120 Scopus citations


Historically, authoritarian attitudes have been attributed to influences within the rearing environment, based on the incorrect assumption that similarity between family members demonstrates cultural transmission. To unconfound environmental and genetic influences, this paper examines right-wing authoritarianism [RWA; Altemeyer, B. (1981). Right-wing authoritarianism. Winnipeg: University of Ottowa; Altemeyer, B. (1988). Enemies of freedom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers] employing data from 39 monozygotic and 38 dizygotic adult reared apart twin pairs and 423 monozygotic and 434 dizygotic adult reared together twin pairs. Genetic factors accounted for about 50% and unshared environment for 35% of the phenotypic variance; either common environment or assortative mating could explain the remaining reliable variance. Similarity in cognitive ability did not underlie the twin correlations on authoritarianism. Purportedly relevant environmental variables from the Moos and Moos Family Environmental Scale (FES), the Block Environment Questionnaire (BEQ) and the MISTRA life history were associated with RWA scores for individuals reared by biological relatives; among adoptees, however, these variables are unrelated to RWA scores.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)985-1014
Number of pages30
JournalPersonality and Individual Differences
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 1999

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The Minnesota Twin Registry has been supported by Grant #5 RO1 MH37860 from the National Institute of Mental Health. The Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart has been supported by grants from the Pioneer Fund, the David H. Koch Charitable Trust, the Seaver Institute, the Spencer Foundation, the National Science Foundation (BSN-7926654), the University of Minnesota Graduate School and the Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishing Company. We wish to thank our numerous colleagues for help in gathering the data discussed in this manuscript. We owe special thanks to Yoon-Mi Hur for help with the Mx model fitting.


  • Adoptees
  • Cognitive ability
  • Social attitudes
  • Twins


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